Man of the Theater
Jerome Robbins received world renown as a choreographer of ballets created for the New York City Ballet, Ballets U.S.A., American Ballet Theatre, and other international companies. He received equal kudos for his work in commercial theater — Broadway. He was a director of musicals, plays, movies, and television programs. This dual interest produced a staggering number of ballets and stagings of musical plays, notable for their diversity, brilliance, lyric beauty, and humor. His work is characterized by the intensity and compactness of its expression and its wide variety of mood — whether it be rhapsodic, introspective, poignant, or hilarious. He had the ability to make the most complex movement appear effortless, and totally reflective of the musical score, as if it were created spontaneously for that exact moment in time.
No choreographer has so epitomized the American scene, or been so prolific in his expenditure of his creative energy. He contributed a great body of superb work to our dance culture, represented all over the world, and in the continuous performances of musicals during the last 35 years.
American Dance Master
His career as a gifted ballet dancer developed with Ballet Theatre where he danced with special distinction the role of Petrouchka, and character roles in the works of Fokine, Tudor, Massine, Lichine and de Mille, and of course his first choreographic sensation: Fancy Free (1944). This ballet, followed by Interplay (1945) and Facsimile (1946), was performed by Ballet Theatre, after which he embarked on a prolific and enormously successful career as a choreographer and later as a director of Broadway musicals and plays. His first musical, On the Town, (1945), was followed by Billion Dollar Baby (1946), High Button Shoes (1947), Look, Ma, I'm Dancing (which he co-directed with George Abbott in 1948), Miss Liberty (1949), Call Me Madame (1950), and the ballet "Small House of Uncle Thomas" in The King and I (1951). His work continued with Two's Company (1952), Pajama Game (again co-directed with Mr. Abbott in 1954), and Peter Pan (1954), which he directed and choreographed. In the same year, he also directed the opera The Tender Land by Aaron Copland. Two years after that, he directed and choreographed Bells are Ringing (1956), followed by the historic, operatic, and balletic West Side Story (1957). He then performed the same tasks for Gypsy (1959) and Fiddler on the Roof (1964). He was simultaneously creating ballets for the New York City Ballet, which he joined in 1949 as Associate Artistic Director with George Balanchine. Among his outstanding works were The Guests (1949), Age of Anxiety (1951), The Cage (1951), The Pied Piper (1951), Afternoon of a Faun (1953), Fanfare (1953), and The Concert (1956), the latter the most hilarious of all ballets. For his own company, Ballets U.S.A. (1958 - 1962), he created N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz (1958), Moves (1959), and Events (1961). The company performed to acclaim in the United States and Europe. He directed the Ford 50th Anniversary Show with Mary Martin and Ethel Merman for television in 1953, followed by a 1955 telecast of Peter Pan for which he received an Emmy Award. He co-directed and choreographed the movie West Side Story (1960), for which he received two Academy Awards. Off-Broadway, he directed the play by Arthur Kopit, Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad (1962). The following year, he directed and co-produced Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children. For American Ballet Theatre's twenty-fifth anniversary (1965), he staged Stravinsky's dance cantata, Les Noces, a work of shattering and immense impact.
An Encompassing Artistry
After the triumph of Fiddler on the Roof, Mr. Robbins dedicated his energies to creating ballets for the New York City Ballet. In 1988 he took a leave of absence to stage Jerome Robbins' Broadway, which opened in 1989 to resounding critical and popular acclaim, and in 1990 he resigned from the position of Ballet Master in Chief — which he shared with Peter Martins — to pursue other projects.
A Ballet Home
A partial list of his 54 creations includes: Dances at a Gathering (1969); The Goldberg Variations (1971); Watermill (1972); Requiem Canticles (1972); The Dybbuk Variations (1974); In G Major (1975); Mother Goose (1975); The Four Seasons (1979); Opus 19: The Dreamer (1979); Piano Pieces (1981); Gershwin Concerto (1982); Glass Pieces (1983); I'm Old Fashioned (1983); Antique Epigraphs (1984); Brahms/Handel (with Twyla Tharp, 1984); In Memory Of... (1985); Quiet City (1986); Piccolo Balletto (1986); Ives, Songs (1988); 2 & 3 Part Inventions (1994), and West Side Story Suite (1995). Additionally, The Jerome Robbins Chamber Dance Company completed an acclaimed tour of the People's Republic of China, sponsored in 1981 by the U.S. Communications Agency.
During this extraordinary, prolific career, Mr. Robbins served on the National Council on the Arts from 1974 to 1980, and the New York State Council on the Arts/Dance Panel from 1973 to 1988. He established and partially endowed the Jerome Robbins Film Archive of the Dance Collection of the New York City Public Library at Lincoln Center. His numerous awards and academic honors included the Handel Medallion of the City of New York (1976), the Kennedy Center Honors (1981), three Honorary Doctorates, an honorary membership in the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (1985) and in 1988 he was awarded the National Medal of the Arts.
Service and Recognition
Mr. Robbins died at the height of his creative powers. Most importantly, he brought joy, emotional involvement and humorous pleasure to millions of people, not only in the United States, but throughout the entire world. His work will continue to exist and delight us.